BIA chief congratulates Baker, Cherokees on election
BY JIM MYERS World Correspondent
Friday, October 21, 2011
10/21/11 at 8:05 AM
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view key documents in the Cherokee Nation election.
A key federal official who earlier had warned the Cherokee Nation against excluding freedmen descendants from voting issued a statement Thursday congratulating new Principal Chief Bill John Baker.
"I also congratulate the citizens of the Cherokee Nation whose actions have honored and upheld the democratic ideals of the nation," said Larry Echo Hawk, assistant secretary for Indian Affairs for the U.S. Department of Interior.
"I look forward to working with the Cherokee Nation on a government-to-government basis to strengthen our relationship and meet the nation's goals for a prosperous future."
In mid-September, Echo Hawk had written then-acting Principal Chief S. Joe Crittenden a letter urging him to consider carefully the tribe's next steps in proceeding with an election that did not comply with federal law.
He restated his agency's position that an 1866 treaty between the tribe and the U.S. government vested Cherokee freedmen with citizenship rights, including suffrage.
About a week later, an agreement was worked in federal court between the U.S. government and the tribe to hold an extended election and guarantee full voting rights to freedmen descendants recognized as tribal citizens as of Aug. 22.
In Tahlequah, Baker moved into his new office at the W.W. Keeler Complex on Thursday morning.
"We will get started immediately assessing where we are as a government and begin moving the largest tribe in America forward," he said.
The tribe has about 300,000 enrolled members and employs 8,500 people across northeastern Oklahoma, making an annual economic impact of about $1 billion.
"Any organization can be improved and it's our goal to not lose any time in getting a handle on the daily workings of the nation," Baker said. "We have a lot to do, and the clock is ticking."
Cherokee Nation Supreme Court Justice James Wilcoxen administered Baker's oath of office Wednesday night in an impromptu ceremony after the tribe's Supreme Court dismissed an appeal by former Principal Chief Chad Smith based on freedmen descendants' participation in the voting.
The Supreme Court justices found that Baker had enough votes to win the election, even with the disputed freedmen descendants' ballots taken out.
Baker will participate in a formal inauguration ceremony at 2 p.m. Nov. 6 at Sequoyah High School.
It will mark the first time that the chiefs of the three federally recognized Cherokee tribes will be together for an inauguration.
They are Baker, Michell Hicks of the North Carolina-based Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, and George Wickliffe of the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians.
"The change of leadership of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma presents an opportunity for all three federally recognized Cherokee tribes to come together and discuss and concentrate on how all three tribes can work together for the betterment of all Cherokee people," Wickliffe said.
Original Print Headline: BIA exec salutes Baker, Cherokees
Jim Myers 202-484-1424
Larry Echo Hawk: The U.S. Interior assistant secretary for Indian Affairs told the Cherokee Nation in September that an 1866 treaty ensured citizenship and suffrage for the Cherokee freedmen.